It is unfortunate that young-adult novels are often referred to as “juvenile” books. Juvenile far too often implies the synonym of “childish,” something that grown-ups wouldn’t want to read. Perhaps with the Harry Potter books that stigma decreased a little—though it is still telling that the British publisher had to come out with a line of Harry Potter books with boring covers so that adults would not be embarrassed to be seen with them on the train!
In fact, young-adult novels are often anything but childish. A case in point is Emperor Dad by Henry Melton. Don’t be fooled by the cover art, which unfortunately looks like it could have stepped right out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Inside is an excellent adventure yarn that starts in the most unlikely of settings.
Robert Hill, a scientist father living in small Texas town, has just been laid off from his corporate job—with a wife and 17-year-old son to support. His son, James, is experiencing the usual teenage problems—worrying over being allowed to drive his father’s pickup solo to and from school, football practice versus his grades, and making out with a cheerleader.
But all that changes when Robert makes a breakthrough in teleportation theory. And when James Hill discovers the teleportation software on his father’s workshop computer, and sees the news reports of teleportation thefts by someone calling himself the “Emperor of Earth,” it doesn’t take him long to put two and two together…
To say more would be to give too much of the plot away (as the Amazon.com blurb does, so don’t read it). This story really deserves to be read and experienced unspoiled. It follows in the best tradition of other juvenile SF/action adventure novels in that it follows a young man trying to solve the usual problems that confront any young man (the search for self-identity, relationships with girls, family, and society) at the same time as he must solve the larger problems that surround him (such as whether his father is a mysterious shadowy figure branded as a global terrorist, and what to do when FBI agents show up at the door).
The story is well-written and fast-paced. It doesn’t bog down for too long in any one spot, and deftly handles the neat trick of writing from the viewpoints of both the father and the son while keeping some aspects of the father’s behavior and plans a secret from the reader until late in the book when the son learns them himself.
The book does a great job of balancing suspense and humor, as James’s search for knowledge about his father is contrasted with the absurdity of some of the situations his father’s teleport technology gets him into. There were no real belly laughs, but there were quite a lot of chuckles.
It is probably most natural to compare this book to Stephen Gould’s Jumper, as one of the Amazon.com reviewers did. Both books share some similarities in terms of the subject matter they cover. They both feature characters discovering teleportation abilities, making logical extrapolations based on the nature of those abilities, and then applying them in ways both “criminal” and benevolent. They also both feature government agents (some presented as sympathetic characters, others less so) trying to catch them. And they’re both exciting and fascinating juvenile novels.
Let’s just hope that if Emperor Dad is made into a movie, it comes off better than Jumper did.
Emperor Dad is a small-press book. It used to be that the availability of such books was strictly limited, but now thanks to Amazon they can be had from anywhere. However, even the cheaper paperback price is still a bit high for a book, due to the smaller print runs. Fortunately, this is a case where e-books do offer a considerable savings, as the book can be had for $4-$5 that way:
Each of the e-formats has its drawbacks, of course—the App Store version (which I mentioned in my e-book reader review) is locked to the iPhone forever and cannot be read on other platforms, likewise with the Kindle, and the encrypted Mobipocket books have no (legal) way of being read on the iPhone yet.
From my correspondence with Melton, I get the idea that he would like or at least not mind selling the book un-encrypted—but unfortunately none of the vendors that sell the book are willing to sell it DRM-free, and he is apparently too small a publisher for Fictionwise who would be. One hopes that might change in the future.
Regardless, if there is any way you can read one of the above e-book formats, I highly recommend snapping it up—encryption or not. The entertainment you’ll get out of it is well worth $5.
And a postscript: as I was researching Henry Melton’s website for this article (Melton also has a blog and a Twitter page), I stumbled across his library of writings. I was seriously impressed: Melton is no newcomer to computers—one of his works is a fascinating article from the April 1977 issue of BYTE Magazine talking about how and why science fiction up to that point had not seen the personal computer revolution coming.
Melton explains that the idea of artificial intelligences as characters had become so attractive to science fiction writers that it drove out all their other uses—they “forgot that real computers exist because they are beautiful tools.” And so the development of the tools happened in the background, unnoticed by the writers, until pocket calculators and microprocessors came out and took them by surprise.
Then Melton brings up then-recent novels that were starting to get computers right. And it turns out that Ben Bova was far from the first novelist to have the idea of an e-book gadget after all:
You must read The Mote In God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, and Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke. In both of these novels everyone has a pocket computer. These gadgets are pocket sized with large memories and very easy to program. They can store text, graphics, and sound, occasionally tying into larger computers by radio, thus serving as diary, library, calculator, and who knows what else. This pocket computer is such a logical development that you can bet that other writers will pick up on the idea.
That all just sounds so familiar somehow.
Science fiction may have gotten it wrong up to that point—but those pocket computers have turned out to be more right than anyone back then could possibly have known.